For too long, women’s healthcare has been dismissed and degraded. Rest assured, the co-Founder and CEO of Mira, Sylvia Kang, is not having any of it.
Over the years, women’s bodies and decisions have been hotly—and frustratingly—debated among politicians, business people and society at large. A most recent display of this debate is the overturning of Roe v. Wade judgment, stealing women’s rights to abortion across 23 states in the United States.
“I’m heartbroken,” asserts the CEO and co-Founder of fertility hormone tracker app Mira, Sylvia Kang. She understands that Roe will transform how in-vitro fertilization (IVF) is viewed in this industry. Most often, fertility treatments, like IVF, are the last hope for many parents. With the overturn, she believes, “Trigger laws can go into effect immediately that recognize the embryo as a person—and if a fertilized egg is considered a person, anti-abortion laws could limit how IVF is practiced.” This will restrict access to fertility care for almost 40 million women.
Roe v. Wade is just one example of how the world perceives women’s healthcare. Kang defines the process of explaining the importance of women’s healthcare to medical boards as an “uphill battle”. Somehow, even though the world is advocating for women’s empowerment, women’s healthcare is going backward when you think about political decisions on the women’s bodies, like the abortion ban.
In our conversation, she discusses Mira’s ability to transform this landscape and her goal of making fertility tracking and pregnancy an affordable and convenient journey for women.
The story behind Mira
Mira was born from Kang’s desire to help a friend who was struggling with her pregnancy journey. Aged a little over 30 years, her friend was trying to conceive a child for some time. However, she was informed that there was “unexplained fertility”. Nothing was wrong with either her or her husband, the doctor couldn’t determine the cause either. After taking medicines, she finally opted for intrauterine insemination (IUI)—a procedure to treat infertility among women. “[There] was a lot of concern, a lot of stress, and they were doubting themselves. They didn’t know what to do,” adds Kang.
It made Kang think about how she could help her. “I just don’t want to see people around me suffer like that,” she says.
She recalls that when people struggle with pregnancies, their first recourse is to purchase an ovulation prediction kit (OPK) to figure out either the best time to engage in intercourse or opt for IUI. “However, [OPKs] are very difficult to use for a lot of people,” she notes. The OPK does not give users a numerical result or tell them much about their hormones; instead, it just gives them a positive or negative response indicating if it is a good time to conceive.
“There’s a gap,” claims Kang. “You either get pregnant with the help of OPK or you get IVF or IUI, and IVF is really painful and costs a lot of money. It is also emotionally draining if you’re not successful.”
This gap and the many challenges associated with becoming pregnant are what urged Kang to create a product that does not leave women with these two aforementioned extremes. She figured that things could be improved if we could better understand our hormone levels. She wanted to create a product that could provide personalized results and long-term tracking, making it easy to use and affordable. Thus emerged Mira.
How does Mira work?
Mira is built on a technology known as “immunofluorescence”. Kang details, “We [help you] track the hormones at home, and we track them continuously. And everything we track is numerical. So we give you your actual hormone concentration.” She equates the app’s accuracy to lab-grade blood testing. Mira also measures multiple hormones, including the luteinizing hormone, estrogen, progesterone and follicle-stimulating hormone. These are the major hormones that fluctuate during your pregnancy cycle.
Here’s how it works: the user purchases a Mira analyzer (a hormone reader) and a whole bunch of stick tests that gather a user’s urine sample. You dip your test into the urine and insert it into the analyzer. Mira then analyzes your sample and converts your hormones into numerical data. The findings are transferred to the Mira app on your phone. Accordingly, the app will “give you personalized notices, daily tips, actionable guides, and we also have a lot of free content on the app, such as articles. We also offer some related content, such as the courses that require very little money,” Kang shares. Moreover, the company recently launched a meditation app geared towards easing users’ fertility experience.
Besides taking a personalized approach, Mira also helps users take the guesswork out of pregnancy. “If you are trying to get pregnant, and you have been challenged in this very stressful journey, every day you’re Googling something because you may not see the symptoms in another woman. And you will Google and get all kinds of confusing answers and those create anxiety and again, anxiety and stress are a cause of infertility as well. So with Mira, you get a much more clear understanding of what’s going on.”
Balancing accessibility with affordability
Kang acknowledges that finding affordable tech has been “a very common problem” for people. She says, “Lab tests are very accurate, but they are not very affordable or accessible because you can’t really go draw blood ten times in your cycle to understand where your ovulations are at.” While OPKs are cheaper, they don’t really solve the issue.
With Mira, she was able to shrink a very large piece of equipment into something that could fit snugly in the palm of your hand. “We compromised some features that are not needed for home use, but we were able to maintain the stability and also the expendability accuracy,” she reveals.
More research and data needed to better women’s healthcare
“I feel like there’s really a lack of focus here,” claims Kang. Many of the current product designs, like cars, are crafted to cater to men, she notes. There is a desperate need to shift focus to women’s health, but it’s not so easy. “I feel like sometimes I’m fighting this uphill battle, because I have to convince people women’s health is not a niche. Many people think, oh, it’s a small market, and it’s not really mainstream, like SaaS software,” she divulges.
For a transformation to happen, she believes that two factors need to take precedence: awareness and research. “In my opinion, the reason there are not that many huge women’s health startup companies is because there is a lack of research,” confides Kang. No research means no data, and when there’s no data, there are no insights. In such a situation, Kang believes that you simply can’t build a “blockbuster product”. She comments, “You probably do something like another OPK. That’s beautiful packaging, it’s nice branding, nice story, but it’s not really going to be life-changing.”
If you want a breakthrough product, you must prioritize research to understand what’s going on at a fundamental level. According to Kang, that will determine the future of women’s healthcare.
Other inventions that could transform healthcare at large
Additionally, Kang really hopes for more personalized care tools to emerge in this field. She points to the fluctuations she has observed in women’s hormones for a few years, and how these change from cycle to cycle and woman to woman.
“From before I got pregnant to now, in postpartum, my hormones have completely changed. So many factors affect that,” she tells us. However, OBGYNs diagnose these changes based on a standard range. They compare it using an average instead of focusing on individual lifestyles. She shares, “It’s more like here’s [the] average, and above that, you’re abnormal, below that you’re abnormal. We don’t consider like, okay, maybe recently I got stressed out. This hormone is a little bit high and that’s just a temporary thing.” Kang feels that is deeply concerning and problematic. According to her, with this level of understanding, we are very likely to get more and more infertility diagnoses.
She hopes that one day, we can all use a device or product that has personalized access to our health situation, hormone levels and lifestyle, and this information can be built into research and eventually utilized by doctors. She concludes, “I’m 100% sure [that] if we have that, we will be able to find so many more solutions to fertility issues, women’s health and hormone imbalances.”
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Header Image by Mira